cover image At the Foundling Hospital: Poems

At the Foundling Hospital: Poems

Robert Pinsky. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, $23 (80p) ISBN 978-0-374-15811-8

In this ode to “Mind, mind, mind pulled/ Taut in its bony shell/ Dreaming up Heaven and Hell,” Pinsky (Gulf Music) celebrates the individual imagination while complicating the idea of single point of origin or influence. He highlights moments of cultural cross-pollination: “I find that Creole work more glorious than God.” And in this case, “Creole” refers to ancient French, Spanish, and German, the result of the Roman Empire’s broad range: “Begetting and trading, they/ Had to swap, blend and improvise language.” Relatively spare poems offer sweeping meditations on history, often tracing words and phrases as they morph over centuries and continents. Names are “arbitrary but also essential,” Pinsky writes, “With one same meaning: The meaning of the past,/ A thunder cloud.” Several poems graft historical and cultural legacies onto the life of the individual, and cull from autobiography: “Pinsky like ‘Tex’ or ‘Brooklyn’ is a name/ Nobody would have if they were still in that same place: those names all// signify someone who’s been away from home a while.” These history-rooted poems recognize that flux between peoples is a fundamental agent of human development and resonate with contemporary questions about migration. Pinsky’s slim volume opens a narrow window through which the reader considers inheritances from the familial to the civilizational. (Oct.)